The Sandwich Board of Selectmen has decided on a boardwalk redesign that will be presented to the Sandwich Historic District Committee next week, opting for a design that aligns with much of the feedback received from the community.
The selectmen voted unanimously at its meeting Thursday, September 16 that they recommended a boardwalk with an average elevation of 10.5 feet, a timber railing and an arch that reflects the one on the existing structure, if less dramatic.
The proposal also allows for alternatives in the event that regulatory agencies reject the initial requests. Specifically, the height of the boardwalk could be elevated to a height of 12 feet, which was the recommendation of the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management. Additionally, guardrails could use the mesh infill along all areas of the structure except for over the bridge, which would use the timber-only rails. The arch will also be designed with slopes no higher than what is allowable per the Americans with Disability Act.
Board member Shane Hoctor advocated for the lower elevation, noting that it is a longstanding tradition for children in town to jump into the creek. The higher elevation might pose a safety risk to jumpers.
“Jumping off the boardwalk is a rite of passage,” he said. “I don’t want to put that at risk.”
Last week, the town hosted a public event at Town Hall to allow residents to inspect architectural drawings of the reimagined boardwalk and examine displays of three railing designs.
Residents were then encouraged to share their opinions on the boardwalk project via e-mail. Specifically, people were asked to weigh in on the overall elevation of the structure, whether the arch profile should be maintained and what type of railings should be installed along the length of the structure.
Assistant Town Manager Heather Harper said the town received 97 responses.
The responses were overwhelmingly in favor of having a lower elevation than that proposed by the board, keeping the arch over the creek and using timber-only railings. Several residents stated they preferred timber-only railings on the portion of the boardwalk that arches over the creek and a galvanized mesh and timber railing on the rest of the structure.
In responses when people specified their preferred elevation, most indicated that keeping it 10.5 feet or lower would be ideal.
People were also largely in favor of ensuring that the structure complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Respondents were mostly Sandwich residents, though a number of people who grew up in town and now live elsewhere, as well as people who vacation in town, offered their thoughts, too.
Several responses were from members of the Friends of the Sandwich Boardwalk, which has been fighting to preserve the history and aesthetics of the structure.
After last week’s event, the group posted in its Facebook group.
“The excessive height is the biggest issue people have with the design,” the post said.
The group also favored an arch that is slightly more subdued and, for railings, preferred timber-only on the bridge with a 6-inch gap between the slats.
“We envision a bridge with gaps large enough to allow fishing and crabbing and to let children jumping into the creek wiggle between the slats rather than forcing them to climb of the 43-inch-high railing,” the group said in its post.
The group prefers a steel mesh and timber railing along the remaining structure.
Following last night’s vote, Friends chairman Raymond Howard expressed his disappointment with the board’s ultimate decision. He said the board could have done more to better preserve the esthetic of the current design. He also urged the town to take advantage of the offers made by several experts in the field, including one engineer and another well-versed in the regulator field, to help with the boardwalk project. These offers were sent to the town following last week’s event at Town Hall.
In her comments to the town following last week’s event, Sandwich residents Sherri Williams wrote that she believes that opting for the lower elevation is worth any risk of future damage to the structure.
“I understand that a Hurricane Sandy-type storm would devastate any structure that is there, regardless of elevation, and the lower structure would expose the structure to more sand, water and wind,” she said. “However, I believe that the historic, aesthetic and traditional walker and user experience is very valuable as well.”
Several people who live with disabilities weighed in, asking that the final structure be accessible to everyone.
Lisa Judelson, who has been blind for the past 10 years, said she has recently been unable to enjoy the boardwalk as she once did. While she can appreciate that people are attached to the aesthetic of the structure, “It is unacceptable to build a new structure that would deny access because someone is in a wheelchair, or blind, or because they need a railing to hold onto,” she said.
Paul Logan, chairman of the Barnstable Disability Commission, said he has had to use a wheelchair for the past 45 years due to an accident. He took his first and only trip to the Sandwich Boardwalk about six years ago and was frightened trying to navigate across.
Jeffery Thomas also wrote in. He said he is a Sandwich resident who has become one of many people who have invisible handicaps.
He said he was opposed to the demolition and reconstruction of the boardwalk and said the structure is essentially an entertainment venue that is not essential to living a full and complete life in Sandwich. He would rather be unable to access the structure himself than to take away the aspects of it that make it beautiful and exciting to others.
As someone who grew up in town, Emmeline Kelley-Manganella said she preferred the structure to have a low elevation. She said part of what is unique about the boardwalk is that as you cross it, you are low—almost walking in the marsh. She said that is one of her favorite aspects of the structure.
Ronald B. Held said that opting for the lower elevation would not matter much because if the sea level rises by 2.5 or more feet in the future, that part of town will have more important issues with which to deal.
Mashpee resident Kevin Doyle said viewing the boardwalk should evoke images of Patti Page’s song “Old Cape Cod.”
“If you don’t hear the melody in your head when you look at the structure, then you’re doing it wrong,” he said. “Please make the boardwalk sing.”
A small portion of people proposed tearing the structure down entirely and not rebuilding.
The Historic District Committee is set to consider the proposed redesign of the boardwalk at its meeting next Wednesday, September 22.